The Dreamers Are Screwed

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Trump Maladministration

New York Times:

Before agreeing to provide legal status for 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally as children, Mr. Trump will insist on the construction of a wall across the southern border, the hiring of 10,000 immigration agents, tougher laws for those seeking asylum and denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” officials said.

The White House is also demanding the use of the E-Verify program by companies to keep illegal immigrants from getting jobs, an end to people bringing their extended family into the United States, and a hardening of the border against thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America. Such a move would shut down loopholes that encourage parents from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to send their children illegally into the United States, where many of them melt into American communities and become undocumented immigrants.

There’s not going to be a deal.

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Evolutionary Psychology and Extreme Gun Ownership

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Via Josh Marshall, there’s a good article by David Frum on our fruitless gun control debates. Frum points out that the entire debate has been bound by rigid rules that keep us from talking about the central issue, which is that it’s just plain too damn easy to get guns in the U.S.

Americans die from gunfire in proportions unparalleled in the civilized world because Americans own guns in proportions unparalleled in the civilized world. More guns mean more lethal accidents, more suicides, more everyday arguments escalated into murderous fusillades….

… There are subtle, sophisticated, and nuanced approaches to the gun problem that balance the rights of gun owners against the imperatives of gun safety. They may well even make some difference at the margin. But they are unlikely to make any significant difference. Americans debate these approaches not because they are likely to be effective, but because the methods that will work—that have worked in every other advanced society—are here politically taboo.

Was there one legal change that could have thwarted Stephen Paddock? Probably not. But the reason crimes like his are so common here, and so rare in western Europe, is not that we are afflicted with more Stephen Paddocks than they, but because their Stephen Paddocks find it so much more difficult to obtain guns, and especially large quantities of guns.

Another long-time rule is that we’re not allowed to talk about firearms being a problem except in terms of crime. The firearm rights activists always want to turn the conversation around to gang bangers shooting each other in Chicago, or the inner city youth holding up a liquor store to buy drugs. Law-abiding citizens owning guns are not the problem, they say. And the response to that, of course, is that Stephen Paddock was a law-abiding citizen right up to the moment he opened fire.

As Frum points out, we have a lot of different gun problems. The problem of guns used in street crimes and the problem of mass shooters like Stephen Paddock are, in many ways, different problems. The kid who waves a gun to get a clerk to clear out the cash register is not necessarily operating in the same social-psychological space as a guy who hauls an arsenal into a hotel room so that he can kill a lot of strangers from a distance. And we’ve already got a lot of laws to deal with the former problem. It’s the latter problem that is vexing us.

Gun nuttery in general appears to be a culture-bound syndrome in American men, something like the way anorexia nervosa is a culture-bound syndrome in western women. The solution appears to be two-fold — reduce the availability of firearms, and change the culture. Not easy.

I found an article on the evolutionary psychology of mass shootings. Basically, men — younger men, especially — are often driven to displays of violence or risky behavior to “prove” themselves. And guns seems to be a part of that these days.

In 2006 I coauthored a laboratory study on men’s responses to guns in the journal Psychological Science with my colleague Tim Kasser and one of our students. We demonstrated that males who interacted with a handgun showed a greater increase in testosterone levels and more aggressive behavior than males who interacted with the board game Mouse Trap.

In the study, each participant dismantled either a gun or the mousetrap, handled its components and then wrote instructions for how to assemble the objects. Then we gave them the opportunity to put hot sauce into water that was going to be consumed by another person. The participants who handled the gun put in significantly more hot sauce – and were also more likely to express disappointment after learning that no one was going to actually drink the concoction.

Thus, cues tied to threats often won’t result in aggressive responses unless testosterone is involved. Elliot Rodger, the disturbed college student whose violent 2014 rampage through Santa Barbara, California, was foretold in a chilling YouTube video, clearly experienced a testosterone surge upon purchasing his first handgun.

“After I picked up the handgun,” he explained, “I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?”

So, yeah, as we all have pretty much figured out by now, the guy who strolls the aisles of Home Depot with an SIG SG 550 strapped on probably has masculinity issues. But the mass shooter has other problems.

British clinical psychologist Paul Gilbert has developed something he calls the Social Attention Holding Theory. According to Gilbert, we compete with each other to have other people pay attention to us; when other people take notice, we build status. The increased status that comes from having others attend to us leads to all kinds of positive emotions. But persistently being ignored by others produces much darker emotions – especially envy and anger.

It’s no mystery why the media will often describe mass shooters and terrorists as misfits or loners. In many cases, they are. …

… Apparently, a lack of attention from others results in a lack of status, resulting in a lack of access to women. Combined with a young man’s testosterone, it creates a toxic, combustible mix.

There may not be much we can do to change the structure of the young male mind that evolved over the course of millions of years. However, ignoring or denying its existence doesn’t do us any favors.

Stephen Paddock was not young, but by all accounts he was very much a loner, pathologically so.

The author also discusses men who join terrorist organizations:

Nicolas Henin was a Frenchman who was held hostage by ISIS for ten months. Here’s how he described his young, murderous, Jihadi captors:

They present themselves to the public as superheroes, but away from the camera are a bit pathetic in many ways: street kids drunk on ideology and power. In France we have a saying – stupid and evil. I found them more stupid than evil. That is not to understate the murderous potential of stupidity.

Is there any motivational difference between why one youth joins ISIS and another joins an inner-city gang? Possibly not. It’s probably the same damn syndrome expressing itself in culturally different ways.

So what are we gonna do?

The good news is that the rate of Americans who own guns has actually been going down over the past several years. In 1994, 53 percent of American households had at least one firearm. In 2016, it was 36 percent. So we aren’t all guns nuts on this bus.

Put another way — 78 percent of Americans own no guns. However, just 3 percent of Americans own 50 percent of the guns in the U.S. And there probably are more guns in circulation in the U.S. than there are people.

Further, — the U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world’s population but contains nearly half of the world’s privately owned firearms.

Just try to get a gun nut to address those numbers. Can’t be done. It’s not the gun, it’s the person, they’ll tell you. But it’s the person who can easily get guns that perpetrate mass shootings. As David Frum said,

Was there one legal change that could have thwarted Stephen Paddock? Probably not. But the reason crimes like his are so common here, and so rare in western Europe, is not that we are afflicted with more Stephen Paddocks than they, but because their Stephen Paddocks find it so much more difficult to obtain guns, and especially large quantities of guns.

As I’ve written before, owning six or more firearms is an indicator a person is likely to be violent.

Josh Marshall:

Guns have been embedded in American culture, particularly though not exclusively rural culture, for centuries. But what we might call extreme gun ownership – individuals owning large numbers of often quasi-military firearms – is quite new. The mass casualty shooting is no longer a random freak out by a troubled person: it’s an established American idiom of violence, a way certain people choose to make a statement to the society at large.

We absolutely must address the issue of extreme gun ownership. We can make a distinction between the extreme gun owner and the antique firearm collector, but otherwise we must have limits on how many firearms a person can legally own at one time. And that’s going to require registrations and a database to keep track of such things, and the firearm activists will hate it. And I’m sure a lot of them will become criminals to keep their arsenals. But it’s got to be done to even begin to get a handle on the mass shooting problem.

Another point made by Josh Marshall last week is that we need to “de-normalize” firearms and the open carrying of firearms. We should not accept or just get used to the sight of civilians strolling around with firearms.

It may be the case that the specific open carry ‘activist’ probably isn’t going to aim his AR-15 at the restaurant crowd and start shooting. But guns are inherently dangerous and especially so in civilian spaces. Normalizing them in this way is dangerous and part of the problem. This cultural component is as critical as the legal restrictions. But we are not collectively powerless in the face of culture. We know this from the evolution of perceptions of drunk driving, smoking, domestic violence and numerous other de-valorized activities. We reify cultural norms in laws and laws, along with the behaviors they shape in turn, changes culture.

If we could get across the perception that a firearm does not make you the “alpha male” and instead is a badge of weakness, we might get somewhere. I’m not sure how that will be accomplished, though.

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Know Your Gunz

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Trump Maladministration

I want to gripe about “I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise” in WaPo.

researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

Let’s review — annual firearm death rates per 100,000 population:

  • Australia: 1
  • Britain: 0.2
  • United States: 10.2

See also Gun violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts.

If the author is arguing that the change in laws in Australia and Britain didn’t make much difference because gun death rates were already low, um, lots of other people say otherwise. This says that in Australia, gun-related homicides and suicides dropped by 59 and 60 percent respectively after they tightened the gun laws in 1996. This does not seem all that ambiguous.

When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.

The latter point is one I made in a post last year, Why an Assault Weapons Ban Is Not Going to Help. We aren’t getting anywhere complaining about “assault weapons,” because it’s a meaningless term. I wrote:

The federal assault weapons ban in effect from 1994 to 2004 had a negligible effect on gun violence overall; perpetrators simply switched to other kinds of semi-automatic weapons not considered “assault weapons.” The assault weapons ban was a cosmetic law that made people feel good about having done something about gun violence when in fact they hadn’t done much of anything. Let’s not go down that road again.

So forget “assault weapons.” I want us to start talking about a ban on all semiautomatic firearms (full auto firearms are already tightly restricted). That would actually mean something.

The Australian government “banned automatic and semiautomatic firearms, adopted new licensing requirements, established a national firearms registry, and instituted a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases. It also bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian-owned firearms, in a scheme that cost half a billion dollars and was funded by raising taxes.” (source) This entire overhaul was done in six months.

Would the same restrictions work as well in the U.S.? Probably not, because of our gun-nut culture, but it would work some.

Federal law that went into effect in 1986 makes it illegal for a private civilian to own any fully automatic weapons manufactured after May 19, 1986.  And you cannot buy legal replacement parts for full-auto weapons manufactured before 1986.  All fully auto weapons are registered with the federal government. People who still own a “grandfather” full auto weapon cannot legally sell them to someone who doesn’t have a federal firearm license, and you have to do some major hoop-jumping to get those.  The process takes about a year, and if you don’t have a damn good reason to own a full-auto weapon, you won’t be licensed.

This ban on full auto firearms actually has had the effect of making full auto firearms scarce. No, it has not eliminated them entirely. But the ones still out there are almost never used in crimes in the U.S. The 1986 law did not violate the 2nd Amendment and appears to have been very effective in restricting access to fully automatic weapons.

Now, let’s do the same thing with semi-automatic weapons, including semi-automatic handguns. That would still leave a wide variety of weapons for those who want to hunt or protect their homes or hold up liquor stores or shoot their own heads off or whatever else they want to do with them, but it would cut down on the mass-shooter carnage considerably.

James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora movie theater shooter, had two weapons, a pump-action shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle. He fired six rounds from the shotgun, then went on to fire 65 rounds from the semi-auto rifle, a Smith & Wesson M&P15. That’s the difference.

I would also put strict limits on the number of firearms of any type that an individual may own. As I wrote yesterday, owning six or more weapons seems to be a predictor that an individual may become violent. So limit the number to five. At least the gun nuts keeping an arsenal will be forced to stop calling themselves “law abiding citizens.”

I don’t think it’s just the availability of guns that makes the U.S. so dangerous. There’s something in our culture that’s seriously out of whack. But I don’t know how to fix that.

Painting by Charles Marion Russell

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Yeah, He’s a Moron

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Trump Maladministration

From what I’ve seen Trump has managed to not make a complete ass of himself in Las Vegas today, which is a triumph compared to yesterday in Puerto Rico, where he did make a complete ass of himself.  See Charles Pierce, “Trump’s Puerto Rican Air Ball.

This morning NBC News reported that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” at some meeting with other administration officials, so Tillerson had to present himself to the public and recite a statement about the glory that is Trump today. I actually felt sorry for him. The guy used to be a titan of industry, and now he’s just a common court eunuch.

But he never said he didn’t call Trump a moron.

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Labeling Stephen Paddock

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Trump Maladministration

When I heard that the Las Vegas shooter owned 42 firearms, I thought back to this post I wrote last year. It linked to this study, which said,

The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to report experiencing serious, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and aggression. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, which found that nearly one in ten Americans have both a history of impulsive anger and access to a firearm.

“The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.”

It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer. And owning multiple weapons is a warning sign of chronic anger. Hmm.

A number of common mental health conditions — including personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder — tend to be associated with the risky mix of pathological anger with gun access, according to the APA.
“However, only a small proportion of angry people with guns has ever been hospitalized for a mental health problem — voluntarily or involuntarily — and thus most would not be prohibited from firearms under the involuntary commitment exclusion.”
Indeed, Paddock had recently purchased firearms from a gun store and had passed all background checks.

Regarding “common mental health conditions” — Americans on the whole remain grossly ignorant of what “mental illness” is. As I wrote in the post from last year, “mental illness” has no specific medical meaning. It could be anything from being deathly afraid of spiders to thinking that Martians are talking to you through your dental fillings.

People who are genuinely psychotic and unable to process what we might call “standard reality” commit very few violent crimes, and when they do it’s a sudden, impulsive thing, like shoving someone off the subway platform because the voices in their heads told them to do it.  They don’t tend to be able to carry out plans that involve several steps over a period of days. Usually they can’t interact with the public without lots of people noticing they are buggier than an ant farm. If someone can pass for “sane,” which is not a medical term either, then they probably are rational enough to know what they are doing and whether it might harm someone.

People with character, personality or mood disorders may feel compelled to do violent things, but intellectually they know right from wrong. So if they survive to go to trial, they don’t get to use the insanity defense. However, diagnosing such disorders is a subjective opinion; there’s no laboratory test that confirms one is borderline or antisocial or whatever.  Few people with character or personality disorders bother to seek professional help, and psychologists themselves say their professional assessments of which of their patients might be capable of violence are no more reliable than flipping a coin.

So Stephen Paddock probably wasn’t “crazy.” However, if we find out later that he had chronic anger issues, then that’s your “motive.”

A lot of people are angry that Paddock isn’t being labeled a “terrorist.” I can understand that one, though, since by definition a “terrorist” is someone who has political aims. However, I’ve noted in the past that there seems to be a thin line between the personal and the political when it comes to violence. For example, this is from last year also

It turns out that the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was a regular toxic stew of Personal Issues. He wasn’t so much a jihadist as someone who poured his excessive rage into a fantasy of jihad. The Washington Post reports that in the past he had falsely claimed connections to many Islamic terrorist groups, including Hezbollah. He seems not to have understood that Sunni and Shiite militants don’t hang out on the same corner.

The real bombshell is that it turns out Mateen was gay himself, according to people who had known him a long time. He’d even been a regular at the nightclub he attacked. And he had a father who is a Taliban supporter.  Talk about raging internal conflict, huh?

He did spend a lot of time on jihadist websites, according to some sources, which no doubt added more bite to the hot pepper gumbo of loathing sluicing around in his id. Other than that, he had about as much connection to ISIS as to the Brownie Scouts.  It seems debatable to me whether the shooting itself was an act of “terrorism” as much as one more mass shooting by a poorly socialized male.

And, in fact, there are studies that conclude most people who become terrorists do so because joining a violent movement is a way of dealing with personal issues. Well-adjusted people not facing a life crisis, identity issues or nursing a boiling personal grudge generally don’t become terrorists, no matter what their scriptures or ideologies say.

It’s amusing, almost, that ISIS claimed responsibility for Paddock’s act in Las Vegas. After the Orlando shooting people were calling for more bombing of ISIS. They seemed unable to process that Omar Mateen’s connection to ISIS likely existed only in his own head. Paddock’s connection to ISIS seems to exist only in ISIS’s head, although some right-wing whackjobs are claiming that his girlfriend, an Australian national currently visiting family in the Philippines, is a “recent convert.” There’s no question that ISIS is a nasty piece of work, but I’ve never thought it had any real operational ability to do mischief in the U.S.

Did I say right-wing whackjobs? I’m seeing lefties on social media speculate that Paddock was pulling a “false flag” operation on behalf of Donald Trump to pull attention away from Puerto Rico.

Of all the labels being attached to Paddock, “evil” is the most useless. Calling something or someone “evil” is an avoidance strategy, in my opinion. It’s a way of absolving oneself or one’s culture, society or nation of responsibility for something. IMO our proclivity for sorting humanity into “good buys” and “bad guys” bins — we are always one of the “good guys,” of course — is the cause of most of the atrocities of the world. I’ve written about this in the past. Very few of the atrocities of human history were carried out by people who were fully aware they were doing something evil.

Labeling something isn’t the same thing as understanding it. In my experience, the more you know about something, the harder it is to label. That’s true also of people. So I’m not really interested in labeling Stephen Paddock. I’m more interested in discussing what steps we can take to stop the next Stephen Paddock.

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Trump Is Angry With Puerto Rico for Making Him Look Bad

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Trump Maladministration

Well, he does everything bigly. Now Trump has made Bush’s “heck of a job, Brownie” moment look like Clara Barton arriving on the battlefield.

As I posted yesterday, the Trump Administration’s tepid “response” to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico pales in comparison to what Obama did for Haiti in 2010. Even the general in charge of relief there says the Administration isn’t doing enough.

Yesterday in response to some blather from the acting head of Homeland Security about what a great job the Administration is doing in Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz responded “Dammit, this is not a good news story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story.”

Ms. Cruz became a powerful voice of grievance on Friday when she went on television to plead for help and reject assertions by the Trump administration about how well it was responding. She was incensed by comments made by Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, who had said on Thursday that it was “really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths” from the hurricane.

“This is, dammit, this is not a good news story,” Ms. Cruz said on CNN. “This is a ‘people are dying’ story. This is a ‘life or death’ story. This is ‘there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people’ story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen.”

Naturally, Trump responded by being Trump.

The president is responding by citing what he calls “such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”

Trump says “they want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

He says the hurricane “totally destroyed” Puerto Rico and that “the military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have done an amazing job.”

And, of course, the asshole in chief is screaming about fake news.

The Washington Post has a different take:

As Hurricane Maria made landfall on Wednesday, Sept. 20, there was a frenzy of activity publicly and privately. The next day, President Trump called local officials on the island, issued an emergency declaration and pledged that all federal resources would be directed to help.

But then for four days after that — as storm-ravaged Puerto Rico struggled for food and water amid the darkness of power outages — Trump and his top aides effectively went dark themselves.

Trump jetted to New Jersey that Thursday night to spend a long weekend at his private golf club there, save for a quick trip to Alabama for a political rally. Neither Trump nor any of his senior White House aides said a word publicly about the unfolding crisis.

Trump did hold a meeting at his golf club that Friday with half a dozen Cabinet officials — including acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke, who oversees disaster response — but the gathering was to discuss his new travel ban, not the hurricane. Duke and Trump spoke briefly about Puerto Rico but did not talk again until Tuesday, an administration official said.

 

In Puerto Rico, meanwhile, the scope of the devastation was becoming clearer. Virtually the entire island was without power and much of it could be for weeks, officials estimated, and about half of the more than 3 million residents did not have access to clean water. Gas was in short supply, airports and ports were in disrepair, and telecommunications infrastructure had been destroyed.

Instead of stepping up his act, Trump has behaved like a petulant child complaining that not everybody loves him and picking a feud with the Mayor of San Juan.

See also Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico is higher than official count, experts say.

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Stuff to Read

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Trump Maladministration

Tom Price resigned from HHS. If only that were the entire cabinet.

Ryan Grim and Aída Chávez at The Intercept write that Lindsay Graham admits he had no idea what he was doing regarding health care reform.

A reporter pointed out that such ignorance at this late stage is hard to understand. “You’ve been working to overhaul this for seven years. Why is this so hard?” she asked.

“Well, I’ve been doing it for about a month. I thought everybody else knew what the hell they were talking about, but apparently not,” Graham clarified, adding he had assumed “these really smart people will figure it out.”

From the Washington Post:

After an earthquake shattered Haiti’s capital on Jan. 12, 2010, the U.S. military mobilized as if it were going to war.

Before dawn the next morning, an Army unit was airborne, on its way to seize control of the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Within two days, the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water. …

… By contrast, eight days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island, an Army general told reporters Thursday. In addition, about 1,000 Coast Guard members were aiding the efforts. About 40 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory, along with 10 Coast Guard helicopters.

Has Trump had his “heck of a job, brownie” moment?

If not Trump, did acting Homeland Security director Elaine Duke have it?

A White House official’s praise of the government response to Hurricane Maria drew a sharp rebuke from the mayor of San Juan, as Puerto Ricans grew desperate in the aftermath of the storm, struggling to obtain basic life-sustaining supplies.

Elaine Duke, the acting head of Homeland Security, said on Thursday that she was “very satisfied” with the government’s response so far and the progress that has been made.

“I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane,” she said.

The Mayor of San Juan disagreed.

Big surprise, not:

The tax framework that President Trump and congressional Republicans rolled out this week would reduce federal revenues by $2.4 trillion in its first 10 years and provide the biggest tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, according to an analysis released Friday by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center (TPC).

And don’t forget to get your flu shot.

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When Lefties Are Their Own Worst Enemies

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Last night’s segment of the Burns-Novick PBS series, among other things, told the story of how Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers and got them published. This was significant, because one of the gripes about the series that seized social media even before the first segment was shown was that Ellsberg had been left out. Between that and the fact that Bank of America and David Koch donated money to produce the series, there has been a regular anti-Burns movement on social media among self-identified lefties who badmouth the series and call it a whitewash, which is why they are refusing to watch it.

It’s true that the current Ellsberg hasn’t appeared on camera (there’s one more segment to air), but the series told his story and quoted things he said in the 1970s about why he leaked the documents. The segment also reported the time the Plumbers broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to look for something incriminating to use against him. That part of the story, and the significance of the Pentagon Papers, was covered, in other words. Note that PBS produced a whole separate 90-minute film just on Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers that was released in 2010. I wonder if the gripers noticed.

The other aspect of the series that has put many knickers in a knot is that it hasn’t told the story of how the glorious and noble antiwar movement helped end the war. But the sad fact is, I can’t say that it did. I believed at the time, and still believe, that the only real accomplishment of the antiwar movement was to re-elect Richard Nixon in 1972. And last night’s episode underscored that point.

Most of us who participated in antiwar demonstrations — notice that I include myself — in those years were not violent. Most of us didn’t break windows or set fires or wave North Vietnamese flags. But there were enough who did do those things that it destroyed the effectiveness of the movement. The antiwar movement replaced the war itself as the big, hot-button issue of the day.

Remember, most Americans alive at the time grew up and had lived their lives believing that America never did anything wrong, and that the government knew what it was doing and wouldn’t lie to us. These were people who came of age when the New Deal was bringing the economy back to life after the Great Depression (and it did, right-wing propaganda to the contrary). They had fought World War II. They — white people, anyway — had benefited from the great economic growth of the post World War II era.  To them, the U.S. and its government was glorious and always right.

These Americans, few of whom had any clue why were in Vietnam except to “fight Communism,” may have disapproved of the handling of the war, but they hated the antiwar movement more than they disapproved of the war. And Nixon and Agnew played that like a fiddle. The broad backlash against the antiwar movement actually caused people to rally around Nixon and support whatever he was doing in Vietnam at the time.

In short, Nixon and Agnew used the antiwar movement to deflect attention from the war itself. This took pressure off of Nixon to end the war quickly.

In last night’s episode, a segment of the old David Frost show was shown in which Agnew spoke to some campus activists. Agnew kept trying to turn the discussion into students being violent, and an articulate young woman speaking to him, who clearly was not making excuses for or advocating violence herself, asked him why he was trying to make Americans afraid of their own children. That was powerful. Maybe you had to live through those days to appreciate what was going on, but that’s exactly what was done. A large part of the Greatest Generation turned on their own children.

Some people today were shocked to learn that a majority of Americans approved of the killing of students at Kent State and Jackson State. I wasn’t shocked by that at all, at the time. That’s how it was then. I’m not sure the country has changed all that much, considering the way many people still support unjustified police shootings.

By the time we got to 1971, the one segment of the antiwar movement that was having a good effect, in my opinion, was Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Last night’s segment covered the April 1971 encampment of the VVAW on the National Mall, featuring John Kerry’s testimony and the veterans who threw their medals over the fence erected to keep them off the Capitol steps. This was very powerful; I thought at the time that, just maybe, this would put a crack in people’s knee-jerk support for the war.

But no; a few days later some jerks showed up in DC to set fires and threaten national anarchy. Nixon and Agnew were delighted, the narrator said, because it took attention away from the VVAW. I don’t doubt that for a minute.

And remember Nixon’s lopsided victory over George McGovern in 1972? The one where McGovern won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia? There were several factors working against McGovern, but IMO the biggest reason it was that lopsided is that people associated McGovern with the antiwar movement and the New Left generally.

Yes, the war actually ended, but I strongly suspect that if the antiwar movement had been more disciplined and less of a freak show, it would have ended sooner. Public opinion was actually turning against the war as early as 1966.

I acknowledge that the people who turned it into a freak show were a minority, mostly younger white men who were self-indulgent and immature. It has been widely believed (although not mentioned on PBS) that some of the jerks were on Nixon’s payroll, and I don’t rule that out. But such young men always seem to show up at big demonstrations to hog the megaphones, microphones, and attention, to which they clearly believe they are entitled. That was true during the anti-Iraq War demonstrations I attended, also. Some things don’t change.

This is a big reason I get very twitchy about leftie demonstrations generally; they so easily become counter-productive. The young folks seem to use the antiwar movement as a template for how demonstrations are to be conducted, not realizing what a colossal failure the antiwar movement actually was.

I have not been critical of antifa in the recent anti-Nazi demonstrations. Charlottesville showed us that peaceful people can’t count on the police to protect them from right-wing violence. A lot of people who were there have said that, were antifa not there, the bloodshed would have been worse. But I caution them that they must be very disciplined and very cautious, and never initiate violence.

There is one more segment to be shown of the Burns/Novick documentary. If you haven’t been watching it, I strongly suggest going to PBS.org and watching the whole thing from the beginning. This is especially true if you weren’t around back then. It’s all been very honest. The Vietnam War permanently changed the country. People need to know what really happened. The series, in my opinion, shows what really happened. Note that it will be available for free streaming only a few more days.

In a film format especially there are always going to be some details and perspectives left out because of time limitations. When dealing with a complex piece of history, there are always infinite variations in how to explain it. But on the whole, I have no serious criticism of how Burns and Novick told this story.

And for the critics — beside the showflakes who think the series was being mean to the antiwar movement, my favorite comment so far was from a guy on Facebook who accused Burns of red-baiting because he portrayed the government of North Vietnam as Communist.

Not enough face palms in the world.

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Making the Democratic Party Democratic

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Trump Maladministration

This op ed is by a guy, Ronald Klain, who was a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year, but with that caveat I have to say I agree with his suggestions for reforming the Democratic nomination process. They are: (1) eliminate the caucuses; (2) open the primaries to independents; (3) take away the superdelegate vote.

Suggestions #2 and #3 are the ones I agree with most strongly, but I can see the argument for #1. A primary probably is a more reliable measure of a state’s Democratic voters than a caucus, which is a confusing and time-consuming process that only the most committed people attend.

#2  Last year Clinton voters were calling for the primaries to be closed to anyone but registered Democrats, and I think that’s a huge mistake. Dems can’t win elections without the votes of left-leaning independents. “What kind of message is sent to independents about Democrats’ desire for their support in the fall by a nomination process displaying a ‘not welcome’ sign in the spring?” Klain asks. And, frankly, the Democratic Party isn’t helping itself by being more closed off and inbred than it already is. It won’t hurt for the process to reflect the broader views of the electorate. Mischief can be kept to a minimum by barring registered Republicans from voting. Seems sensible to me.

#3 The superdelegates have got to go. I disagree with Klain when he wrote “Superdelegates have never been decisive in the process; they have always ratified the choice of the primary voters.” Clinton fell short of votes to clinch the nomination last year; were it not for the superdelegates it would have been a contested convention. I’m sure she would have won anyway, since she owned the DNC. But it was galling to be reminded, all last year, that Clinton started out with a huge lead because of the superdelegates.

Emma Roller wrote last year, “Left-wing Democrats have long argued that their party’s system of superdelegates is unfair because it gives too much weight to ruling elites, disenfranchising ordinary voters.” Yeah, pretty much. And that’s the last thing Democrats need.

I would go so far as to say that if the Dems haven’t gotten rid of the superdelegates by 2020, it’s going to hurt them. People will remember 2016.

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Trump, Interrupted

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Trump Maladministration

Trump has responded to people nagging at him about Puerto Rico by agreeing to visit it next Tuesday. That’s a week from today, right? I know he’s really busy bitching about the NFL and Republicans in Congress, but one would think he could have scheduled something a bit sooner.

Puerto Rico is in crisis

After Hurricane Maria knocked out electricity to all of Puerto Rico, residents of the U.S. territory are “gasping for air” in the relenting heat, says the mayor of the island’s capital city of San Juan.

“What’s out there is total devastation. Total annihilation. People literally gasping for air. I personally have taken people out and put them in ambulances because their generator has run out,” Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told ABC News.

Cruz said Puerto Rico has been prepared for major storms since the end of August, when Hurricane Irma was approaching. Irma slammed into the island and caused deaths and devastation, and was soon followed by the catastrophic hit of Maria. Parts of the island have now gone several weeks without running water and electricity.

Hospitals in particular are struggling without power, supplies, and even food and water. Before this is over we’re probably going to learn that a lot of people died after the storm who could have been saved by a quicker response. They are probably dying right now.

But Trump, who was so pleased with himself because he managed to visit Texas after Harvey, seems to feel no sense of urgency about Puerto Rico. In fact, he thinks he’s doing a good job.

President Donald Trump said he plans to travel to Puerto Rico next Tuesday to survey the wreckage left behind by Hurricane Maria, and boasted that his administration is getting “really good marks” for its response to the devastating storm.

“I mean I think we’re really getting really good marks for the work we’re doing,” Trump told reporters at the White House, also saying, “I grew up in New York so I know many people from Puerto Rico. I know many Puerto Ricans, and these are great people. And we have to help them.”

He added, “We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and on Florida. And we will also on Puerto Rico.”

So far, Trump has managed to figure out that Puerto Rico is an island. At least, he actually said this:

 “We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico,” Trump said at the White House. “But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.”

I can confirm that Puerto Rico is in an ocean, so we’re making progress in some ways.

He also said, “This is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean, this is tough stuff.” Yes, but there is also a thing called the “Navy.” They have boats.

Earlier today it was announced that the hospital ship the USNS Comfort would be heading to Puerto Rico, but the Miami Herald just reported that the Comfort wouldn’t be going yet.

On Tuesday, Nathan Potter, of the Naval public affairs office told The Miami Herald that the vessel was currently docked in Norfolk and had “no plans to deploy.”

Possibly the White House hasn’t yet figured out that the military doesn’t respond to rumors on the Internet. You have to send them orders.

The BBC asks, “Does Trump care about Puerto Rico’s hurricane victims?” Judging by his tweets, he has more important things on his mind, such as pro sports:

When he did finally tweet about Puerto Rico, it was to complain that Puerto Rico owed millions to Wall Street and the banks.

With all the hurricane there was bound to be a Katrina in there, somewhere, and I think we found it.

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